SACRAMENTO, CALIF -- SACRAMENTO, Calif. - State officials on Friday announced that an ambitious and controversial plan to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will be delayed.
A draft of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, and its accompanying environmental studies, was expected to be released by the end of June. But on Friday, state Natural Resources Secretary John Laird announced in a letter posted on the plan's website that this schedule will not be met.
The letter, dated Thursday and addressed to Deputy U.S. Interior Secretary David Hayes, did not directly explain the reasons for the delay. Laird wrote cryptically that "we will soon be able to announce some significant adjustments in the overall program that will reflect our commitment to using the best science."
Asked if this means the project is being significantly revised, agency spokesman Richard Stapler was noncommittal.
"I can't really fairly say, one way or another, if it's a drastic reworking," Stapler said. "The science that goes into it, the analysis, is fairly time-consuming."
Stapler said the delay is needed so planners have more time to conduct computer modeling of water flow changes caused by the proposed project, to study cultural and archeological resources that might be affected, and to fully incorporate some 12,000 pages of preliminary studies the agency released on the plan in March.
The new estimate for delivering a draft plan, he said, is "late summer or early fall."
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan aims to resolve a number of complicated environmental problems in the Delta, a source of drinking water for 25 million Californians. It would do this by replumbing water diversions in the estuary and restoring fish habitat.
The plan's most controversial element is a pair of giant tunnels, estimated to cost $13 billion, that would divert a portion of the Sacramento River's flow out of the estuary and directly to existing state and federal water diversion pumps near Tracy, Calif.